PSAB Strategic Initiatives

February 2009

PSAB Mission

The PSAB mission parallels that of ASM, which is to advance the microbiological sciences and to promote the application of microbiologically related information for the improvement of human health, economic well being, environmental soundness, and national security. In specific terms, PSAB serves as the public policy arm for the Society, reaching out to inform and influence public policy affecting the microbiological sciences, clinical microbiology and public health.  The Board interacts with government officials; representatives of industry, including food, drug, health care, and environmental sectors; and other organizations, which are concerned with health, safety, environmental, and other issues involving the microbiological sciences.

On behalf of the diverse membership of ASM, a key element of the PSAB mission is to provide a strong and effective voice during public discussions, offering sound advice and rapid and timely recommendations to inform public leaders and key private sector representatives on important microbiologically related policy matters. In fulfilling this role, PSAB is committed to meeting the highest possible standards of professional and scientific excellence. PSAB also recognizes the need for addressing the broad based concerns of pertinent stakeholders when developing position statements for ASM and when conveying advice and recommendations that reflect the best interests of the microbiological sciences.

PSAB Issues
Serving as part of a high profile, public operating arm of ASM, PSAB identifies current and core issues that require steady attention. In addition, PSAB members and staff monitor key developments that may affect important constituencies within the ASM membership on a short- or long-term basis. Although the primary resources of PSAB are dedicated to programs affecting several, on-going core issues, some PSAB resources are routinely reserved for dealing with special issues that arise and are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The following general areas have been identified as being among the Board's core issues. At its meeting in February each year, the PSAB evaluates its core issues and identifies current issues which require attention. 

  • Providing timely advice and recommendations on the annual federal appropriations affecting microbiological and related biomedical research, training and public health programs;
  • Monitoring and responding to the emergence of new or reemergence of familiar infectious disease agents affecting humans, animals, and plants; of resistance to antimicrobial drugs; and of public and private sector policies affecting drug, vaccine, medical and diagnostic devices or other products that are related to this critical area;
  • Providing oversight and expert advice on biodefense, bioterrorism preparedness, biosafety and biosecurity measures and relevant public health policies, such as national and global infectious disease issues;
  • Tracking fundamental scientific developments, including  research in microbial or model system genomics, and in cross-cutting basic research arenas, such as biological diversity, that have far-reaching implications for microbiologists and allied specialty disciplines;
  • Responding to clinical laboratory testing and workforce issues which are central to the diagnosis and prevention of infectious disease and tracking the economic, technological, scientific and other forces that are affecting the practice of clinical laboratory microbiology;
  • Addressing developments in policy areas affecting research and training in the microbiological sciences, food and drinking water safety, biotechnology and environmental policy, agricultural research issues and issues that affect the microbiological research community because of their public health, economic, social, or research impacts
  • Addressing public policies, scientific developments, and other important trends potentially affecting microbiologists and identifying new issues on which PSAB may need to focus
  • Addressing regulations and policy affecting the care and use of animals in research.
  • Encouraging diversity within the field of microbiology, issues related to special populations (e.g. minorities, women, children, immigrants, aging, etc.)

PSAB Procedures, Policies and Process
The authority for PSAB derives from Article XII of the ASM Constitution and Bylaws.  The Public and Scientific Affairs Board current committee structure, standard clearance procedures and permitted activities are described in the ASM’s Council Policy Committee handbook.

Recognizing the value of meeting directly with representatives from federal agencies and departments, PSAB members recommended that such face-to-face meetings be held periodically, ideally on an annual basis in Washington, D.C. Such meetings, along with a systematic method for polling ASM constituencies, will help in 1) monitoring core priority areas 2) work in progress and 3) in identifying emergent issues for the Board to address. This meeting will also develop and update the strategic themes, initiatives and issues for the coming year.

The PSAB will continue to review its organizational structure and the optimal system for addressing public policy issues on behalf of ASM.  Several modifications have already been made in the committee makeup of the Board and in the priority decision-making process which has been developed.  The PSAB recognizes that reexamination and changes of organization and design may be necessary to ensure an effective, operationally flexible group that can fulfill its mission.

The PSAB has identified the following key points related to its work:

  • The most significant “hot” issues tend to be more cross-cutting rather than fully contained within one committee;
  • The structure of PSAB has evolved over time and may need further reexamination in the future to maintain optimal structure in light of changing issues with which ASM must deal.  The structure should have the right balance between standing groups with enduring responsibilities for recurring and ongoing issues and activities and ad hoc groups that are established and maintained for limited periods because they are focused on specific issues that arise. The work that is most predictable, but absolutely critical, is the annual review of key agency budgets that play significant roles in the support of science.  Committees must have members who are conversant with the budgets, missions and programmatic operations of the respective agencies and who work with staff to influence the federal allocation of resources for science.  Early in the process PSAB efforts are proactive, and they are often coordinated with the support of positions and activities that ASM/PSAB may take with coalitions.  Later in the appropriations cycle, advocacy efforts may be more reactive and may involve alerting members to take particular and timely actions in response to specific pending proposals.  Committees of PSAB ensure continuity of contacts with the various agencies and Congress so that ASM is ready to advocate, testify and consult as opportunities arise in core issue areas.

    For selected “breaking” issues, however, that are not specifically assigned to committees, subcommittees or task forces of PSAB, issue-focused, ad hoc, time-limited groups with members matched to fit the issue may be formed.  A database may be needed of expertise and agency and congressional linkages of members who could be called upon for deployment under the aegis of PSAB. The PSAB must have a fast track response process to take up short-cycle opportunities.
  • The PSAB must include the appropriate mix of expertise to be effective. The PSAB’s mission is to bring the intellectual capital resident in its members to bear on the most significant issues facing the field of microbiology and the public, in such a way as to shape policy and resources in government at all levels and to increase growth in knowledge and its application to the betterment of the health and safety of the public.  PSAB must serve as a resource network to match the excellent resources of its membership to issues.
  • The PSAB should select a number of proactive Board issues, chosen ideally from a longer list of issues where the leadership and expertise of ASM needs to be brought to bear on shaping the wider understanding of issues.  The PSAB must be aware of the commitment of resources, especially key volunteer leader’s time as well as Society and staff resources allocated to activities.  Once PSAB has committed its attention to a select number of key issues, however, a full range of appropriate resources of ASM should be determined to implement a specific and effective plan of action.  This may include building skills of volunteers in working effectively with Capitol Hill, with the media, etc.  

PSAB Issues management

Issue detection
During the sentinel or early warning phase new and emerging issues are detected.  Intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and synthesized to determine whether PSAB should invest in further efforts. “Threatening” issues are explored and decisions are made about deploying resources at this critical early stage.

Naming and framing
During this early conceptual phase, boundaries of the issue are established in a way that makes it possible to be worked on effectively.  Decisions are made as to whether to have a narrow focus, for example, on budget advocacy or to influence the direction of specific science opportunities.  Alternative frames may lead to a richer or different array of actions and different political dynamics.

Designing and rostering the process
During this phase the process is developed for addressing the issue and, formally and informally, appropriate stakeholders are consulted in the planning process. Responsibilities are assigned to committees, subcommittees or ad hoc task forces.  PSAB should draw upon many resources to engage its membership in dealing with the issue.

Work preparation
This phase, involves the preparation of draft position documents, booklets, surveys, or other documents or materials with ASM/PSAB experts and outside consultants.  This could also involve a task force meeting or workshop.  An issue may be short-term and dealt with quickly or it could involve the work of a multiyear effort by a group, working on a large, complicated process or issue.  A long-term commitment of resources may be necessary.

Making strategic choices
This is a decisional moment after the authorized volunteer leader or group receives the advice of various sources.  The Board needs to determine, on the basis of information it has analyzed, or prepared whether to take a particular action, or instead, if a particular issue should not be pursued.  This stage may sometimes occur earlier in the process.

Involvement in the above process should make implementation easier because people have become committed and more deeply understand the issues.  New stakeholders, however, may not feel bound by choices that are made and the recommendations of those who participated.  Often the politics of adoption are shaped by the leadership.

PSAB Clearance Procedures
Based on the Bylaws (Article XIII, Section 3, and Article XVI, Section 4) the Board proposes and implements policy through its constituent committees. Board members should be responsive to issues brought to their attention by staff and feed back information to headquarters staff as quickly as possible.

It is the usual procedure for the chair of a committee to assign to one or more members of the committee responsibility for developing statements in response to public policy initiatives such as legislation or regulations. These individuals prepare a draft response which is then reviewed sequentially by the committee chair, the full committee, if necessary, and the PSAB Chair. For short-turn-around issues, information is forwarded to appropriate committees by express mail or electronic communications, and conference calls are used to discuss responses.

For responses that implement policy previously approved by Council, and by CPC for Board and committee activities, the Board Chair will be the final reviewing official, and after consulting with the PSAB, if necessary, will issue a statement on behalf of ASM. Whenever possible, the President will be the senior signatory on documents, followed by the Board Chair and relevant committee chair.

If in the opinion of the Board Chair new policies are being proposed, or if there is a significant legal or financial consequence of a previously approved policy, the responses will be cleared with the appropriate Officers of the Society for approval or disapproval and, if time permits or circumstances warrant, by the Council Policy Committee (CPC) and Council. On issues requiring new policy where there is a need for an immediate response, statements are transmitted by electronic communications to an Officer and then reviewed with the Officer in a conference call for approval or disapproval. Where time is not of the essence, new policies will be brought by the usual route to Council for deliberation.

Informing the Membership
ASM members are informed either through ASM News, through the use of Legislative Alerts, or through communications to key congressional correspondents. Reports of Board activities and policy statements are printed in ASM News to keep members informed. Alerts on legislative and regulatory issues are sent to specially designated ASM members who are directly affected. The PSAB has developed a list of key congressional correspondents, organized by state and congressional district, who are on short notice, to communicate with their congressmen when legislative action is imminent.

Officers and CPC members are to receive copies of policy documents issued on behalf of ASM.

PSAB Lobbying Rules

Gifts1 to Government Officials

A. Gifts to Members of Congress, Congressional Officers, or Employees

1. Basic Rule

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act enacted in 2007 bars any registered lobbyist or private entity, such as ASM, that employs one or more lobbyists from making a gift to a Member, officer, or employee of Congress unless the gift falls within an explicitly identified exception. Many of the exceptions are inapplicable to ASM and others contain detailed and complex requirements. Although certain exceptions are listed below, no ASM employee may make a gift that relates in any way to the employee’s activities for, interests in, or duties to ASM to a member, officer, or employee of Congress unless the gift is made in accordance with a written policy of ASM or is authorized in advance by the Executive Director or the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs or unless the gift or payment is approved in advance by the government employee’s agency or institution. Further, additional rules deal with gifts made to third persons on behalf of, at the request of, or to gain favor from a member of Congress, officer, or employee. Therefore, ASM employees may not make a gift that relates in any way to the employee’s activities for, interests in, or duties to ASM to a third person that relates in any way to a member, officer, or employee of Congress unless the gift is made in accordance with a written policy of ASM or is authorized in advance by the Executive Director or the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs. The provision of any gift also must comply with recordkeeping and reporting obligations as directed by the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs.

2. Certification of Compliance

ASM must certify semiannually that it has not provided, requested, or directed a gift, including travel, to a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of either House of Congress or a covered Administration official with knowledge that receipt of the gift would violate rule XXXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate or rule XXV of the Rules of the House of Representatives. Adherence to ASM’s policy is critical for compliance with this certification requirement.

3. Exceptions

Some of the exceptions that are most likely to be relevant to ASM are:Items for which the Member, officer, or employee pays market value;

  1. Specific rules exist for the determination of “market value.”
  2. Items, including personal hospitality, provided by an individual on the basis of a personal friendship unless the Member, officer, or employee has reason to believe that, under the circumstances, the gift was provided because of the official position of the Member, officer, or employee and not because of the personal friendship. Again, additional specific guidance may be provided;
  3. Informational materials that are sent to the office of the Member, officer, or employee in the form of books, articles, periodicals, other written materials, audiotapes, videotapes, or other forms of communication;
  4. Honorary degrees (and associated travel, food, refreshments, and entertainment) and other bona fide, nonmonetary awards presented in recognition of public service (and associated food, refreshments, and entertainment provided in the presentation of such degrees and awards);
  5. A plaque, trophy, or other item that is substantially commemorative in nature and which is intended solely for presentation;
  6. Food or refreshments of a nominal value offered other than as a part of a meal;
  7. An item of little intrinsic value such as a greeting card, baseball cap, or a T-shirt;
  8. Subject to specific requirements, free attendance at a widely attended convention, conference, symposium, forum, panel discussion, dinner, viewing, reception, or similar event, provided by the sponsor of the event.


B. Gifts to Employees of the Executive Branch and Regulatory Agencies

1. Basic Rule

Restrictions on gifts to executive branch and regulatory agencies are found in statutes that apply to all three branches of government, regulations issued by the Office of Government Ethics, and regulations and policies of specific departments and agencies. Broadly speaking, gifts are prohibited:

  1. From anyone with interests that may be affected by the government employee’s official actions;
  2. From anyone seeking official action from the government employee’s agency;
  3. From anyone doing business with the government employee’s agency;
  4. From anyone conducting business with the employee’s agency;
  5. From an organization the majority of whose members fall in any of the categories a. through d. above; or
  6. Given because of the government employee’s official position.

Further, federal law imposes criminal penalties upon individuals that bribe government officials or provide an illegal gratuity to a government official – that is, give, or offer or promise to give, something of value (need not be money) “for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official.” Therefore, a violation of the illegal gratuity statute does not require an immediate quid pro quo but simply a reward for an anticipated future act or a past action by a government official.

To assure compliance with the statutory and regulatory restrictions, ASM employees may not make any gift on behalf of ASM or that is connected in any way with their employment by, or activities on behalf of ASM, that would fall within any of the above described categories, unless the gift clearly falls within a specific exception set forth below, is made in accordance with a  written policy of ASM, or is authorized in advance by the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs or unless the gift or payment is approved in advance by the government employee’s agency or institution. The provision of any gift also must comply with recordkeeping and reporting obligations as directed by the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs. If there is any question at all regarding the propriety of a gift, the ASM employee must receive advance approval.

2. Exceptions and Exemptions

As with the rules for the legislative branch, there are exceptions. Some are listed below. Due to the complexity of the prohibitions as well as the exceptions, it is vital that ASM employees conform to the policy against making a gift unless and until the gift is approved by a written policy of ASM or the Director, Public and Scientific Affairs or falls clearly within one of the following categories.

  1. De minimis gifts – noncash gifts valued at less than $20, modest refreshments, or items with little intrinsic value intended for presentation (plaque, certificate, etc.);
  2. Gifts based solely on personal friendship or family relationship;
  3. Services or opportunities generally available to the public;
  4. Free attendance at events where the government employee presents information on the government’s behalf, or teaches or speaks on matters touching on the employee’s official duties, widely attended events when the government agency finds the employee’s attendance is in the interest of the government, or nonpolitical fund raising event.

3. Additional Considerations

In considering gifts to government officials, ASM must take into account rules and policies of specific agencies as well as statutes and rules of general applicability. Further, individual states and locals have their own rules related to gifts to state and local government officials. Therefore, it is important that ASM employees adhere carefully to ASM’s policy regarding advance approval of gifts to government employees if there is any question regarding the propriety of the gift.

C. Compliance with ASM’s policy

As set forth above, ASM must certify compliance with the restrictions on gift giving to members, officers, or employees of Congress. Further, criminal penalties and civil fines may be imposed for violation of gift rules. Consequently, all employees must comply fully with the ASM policy.

Activities Permitted And Not Permitted Of 501(C)(3) Organizations

As a scientific and educational organization, the American Society for Microbiology qualifies under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  It is necessary for the Society to comply with both organizational and operational requirements in orderto maintain this tax-exempt status.

The Society may engage in the following types of activities.

  • Publish educational and scientific material.
  • Conduct meetings, seminars, exhibitions and the like devoted to educating the public and microbiologists with respect to microbiological sciences.
  • Conduct research and sponsorship of research by others.
  • Conduct substantial business activities not related to the educational or scientific purposes of the Society provided such activities do not become the primary activities of the Society. However, the net income generated from these activities is subject to income tax.
  • Generate greater income than expenses at the end of the fiscal year, provided that the profit is not distributed back to the members. Even though ASM is "nonprofit," it can generate a financial surplus and still remain a non-profit entity. Associations often need to generate an annual accounting surplus in order to pay for capital expansion (e.g., new products or services) in future years. Nonprofit organizations cannot raise capital by issuing stock, and they often have difficulty obtaining loans for lack of sufficient hard assets for collateral.
  • Solicit contributions from individuals and corporations. Contributions or gifts to the Society are tax deductible.

The Society may not engage in the following types of activities.

  • any political campaign activity
  • any substantial lobbying activities
  • any substantial activity not related to the fulfillment of its exempt educational and scientific purposes

Included in this list of impermissible activities would be substantial professional advancement activities, lobbying for professional advancement purposes, and other activities directed towards benefit of the profession of microbiologists rather than the science of microbiology. Substantial relates to the overall activities of the Society.

1. A “gift” is any money, gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The term includes honoraria, awards and gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement of an already incurred expense, or anything else upon which a person may place a monetary value.